Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2013
Volume 24
Issue 2
Page Numbers 181-186
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Vietnam

When in January 2013 the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) announced that it would seek citizen feedback on its efforts to amend the constitution, some Vietnamese called for the removal of Article IV, which grants the Party a leadership role in society and the state. In February, CPV General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong delivered a nationally televised speech equating this criticism with moral deterioration. When journalist Nguyen Dac Kien published a piece rebuking this assumption of moral superiority, he was fired from his position at a state-run newspaper within 24 hours. On February 28, a group of Vietnamese bloggers published a “Declaration of Free Citizens,” which quickly attracted thousands of signatories. It appears below:

We, the undersigned, call upon our fellow citizens to join us in declaring:

  1. 1. We not only want to abolish Article IV in the constitution, but also to have a Constitutional Congress to establish a new constitution that truly reflects the will of our people, not the will of the Communist Party as currently in the constitution in force.
  2. 2. We support a pluralistic and multiparty system, and all political parties who fairly compete for the advancement of freedom, peace, and prosperity of the people of Vietnam. No political party has the right to control, and to tyrannize this nation.
  3. 3. We not only support a democratic system which upholds the independence of the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary, but also wish for a government that decentralizes its power by empowering the autonomy of local levels of government, and eradicates the state-sponsored consortium, and all state-owned corporations, which misuse the national budget, breed corruption, destroy the people’s faith, will, and the spirit of our national unity.
  4. 4. We support the military becoming nonpartisan, free from party [End Page 181] affiliation. The military is to protect the people, the land, and defend national sovereignty, not to serve any political party.
  5. 5. We assert the right to declare the above and that all our fellow Vietnamese citizens share the same right.

We affirm that we are exercising our fundamental human rights, which constitute the rights of free thoughts and free expression. These are natural rights that are inherent in every human being at birth. The Vietnamese people recognize and respect these universal rights. These rights are not granted to us by the Communist Party and hence, the Communist Party has no right to dispossess us of them nor to judge them. We deem any judgment or accusation aimed at us an act of defamation. We believe anyone who opposes these human rights is also against our national interests and mankind’s civilization.

Let us join hands to turn this Declaration of Free Citizens into an unbreakable tie that bonds together millions of Vietnamese hearts. Let us raise our voice by signing our names at the following email address: tuyenbocongdantudo@gmail.com

Somalia

On 10 September 2012, just over a month after Somali leaders adopted a new constitution, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was chosen by members of Somalia’s newly constituted parliament as the president of the re-born state. On January 17, he delivered a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Below are lightly edited excerpts from his speech:

You all agree with me that being president of a failed nation requires a lot of energy and time, and still you are not sure if you will succeed. However, the greater vision that I have for my country has led me to take on the challenge. . . .

Institutions are the basis of good governance, and in Somalia there are no institutions, and no resources—and in certain areas, no capacity—for easily building institutions. Imagine that you are asked to start an institution without any resources and without people who are capable of managing that institution. Then, imagine that you are asked to lead a nation that is dysfunctional at all levels, and that you are asked to lead a people that has a level of mistrust that many other peoples in the world have not experienced. And you have a people who are divided and sometimes believe that they are better off without institutions, without rule of law, and without leaders. Despite all these challenges, my government is laying down the foundations of institutions while encouraging public awareness of the benefit of institutions and the rule of law. . . .

For the last four months we have made significant improvements on many fronts, which include security, financial management, building the [End Page 182] foundations of our institutions, confronting pirates, and many more. . . . Our urgent need is to stabilize the whole country and establish administrations in all newly liberated areas in order to provide an environment that is conducive to allowing local people to choose their own leaders who are accountable to them. . . .

Twenty-two years without a functioning state and institutions and twelve years of transition are enough for us to reclaim our sovereign territorial integrity and our people. We are now ready to lay down strong institutions with good governance.

Sri Lanka

On 18 January 2013, Reverend Dhiloraj Canagasabey, the Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Colombo, issued a pastoral letter deploring the state of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. In his letter, he exhorted members of the Anglican Church to observe February 3 as a day of lament for the situation in Sri Lanka. Below are excerpts from his letter:

I write this as your bishop as we approach the 65th anniversary of our national independence. It is with a heavy heart that I write it, the reason being that in the past few days we have seen the complete collapse of the rule of law in our nation. We no longer appear to be a constitutional democracy.

The rule of law means that we as a nation are governed by a system of laws to which the lawmakers themselves are subject. This is a way of ensuring that power is not concentrated in the hands of one person (or group of persons) and exercised arbitrarily. The breakdown of such accountability is a process that has been building up for the past several years. It has now climaxed in the recent events that have seen both the executive and the legislature disregarding the provisions of the very constitution which they swore to uphold and defend, giving the appearance of a country ruled on the principle that “Might is Right.”

The numerous warnings that the Church, other religious organizations and civil society bodies repeatedly issued have been ignored. There is currently a climate of fear and helplessness where people remain silent rather than speak out against rampant injustice, intimidation, violence, and falsehoods.

We as a Christian Church cannot remain silent in this situation. Such silence will dishonor our Lord and betray our identity as His people. . . .

I, therefore propose that:

  1.  Sunday, 3 February 2013 be observed in all parishes within our diocese as a Day of Lament. All services should have an extended time of silence, prayer, and intercessions, to grieve over the state of our country today. Please encourage all parishioners to wear white and to fast wherever possible. [End Page 183]
  2. We as a diocese will congregate on February 4, 2013, at 9 a.m., dressed in white, for a service to continue our Time of Lament. Those who are unable to be present at the Cathedral for this service are encouraged to gather in their own churches at this time.

South Korea

On 19 December 2012, Park Geun-hye became the first woman to be elected president of the Republic of Korea. She is the daughter of President Park Chung-hee, who rose to power during a military coup in 1961 and presided over a period of both economic transformation and political repression until his assassination in 1979. On February 25, she delivered her inaugural address. Below are excerpts from her speech, emphasizing a “new paradigm of tailored welfare.”

Today, we are confronted anew with a global economic crisis and outstanding security challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear threat. At the same time, capitalism confronts new challenges in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The tasks we face today are unlike any we have confronted before. And they can only be overcome by charting a new pathway by ourselves. . . .

The new administration will usher in a new era of hope premised on a revitalizing economy, the happiness of our people, and the blossoming of our culture. To begin with, economic revitalization is going to be propelled by a creative economy and economic democratization. Across the world, we are witnessing an economic paradigm shift.

A creative economy is defined by the convergence of science and technology with industry, the fusion of culture with industry, and the blossoming of creativity in the very borders that were once permeated by barriers. People are the nucleus of a creative economy. We live in an age where a single individual can raise the value of an entire nation and even help in rescuing the economy. . . .

In order for a creative economy to truly blossom, economic democratization must be achieved. I believe strongly that only when a fair market is firmly in place, can everyone dream of a better future and work to their fullest potential. One of my critical economic goals is to ensure that anyone who works hard can stand on their own two feet and where, through the support of policies designed to strengthen small- and medium-sized enterprises, such businesses can prosper alongside large companies. . . .

No matter how much the country advances, such gains would be meaningless if the lives of the people remained insecure. A genuine era of happiness is only possible when we are not clouded by the uncertainties of aging and when bearing and raising children is truly considered a blessing. No citizen should be left to fear that he or she might not be [End Page 184] able to meet the basic requirements of life. A new paradigm of tailored welfare will free citizens from anxieties and allow them to prosper in their own professions, maximize their potential, and also contribute to the nation’s development. . . .

I humbly ask for your support, wherever you may be, not only in the service of your own individual interests, but also in answering the call of the common good. In the needy days of our past, we shared with each other whatever we had. Even in the midst of their hardship, our ancestors had the generosity of mind to leave aside a few persimmons for the magpies during the harvest season. We are a people that had long led a life of communal sharing.

Reviving that spirit once again and building a society flowing with responsibility and consideration for others will allow us to be confident that a new era of happiness that all of us dream of is truly within our reach. Such a spirit will offer a new model for capitalism that is in search of a new compass and set an example for addressing the uncertain future that confronts our world.

North Korea

On February 19, Shin Dong-hyuk, the subject of Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14 (reviewed by Carl Gershman on pp. 165–73 above), delivered a speech as part of the Fifth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Below are excerpts from his speech, delivered in English:

I was born in a political prison camp . . . in North Korea in November 1982. I don’t actually know why I was born in a political prison camp. As far as I know, my father and mother were put in the prison camp when they were still quite young. During my 24 years of living in the prison camp, I never bothered to ask why I had been born there, or why I would have to live there until I died.

As a child, the only thing that I knew about my situation was what I was told by a prison-camp guard. He said, “You were supposed to be killed, but the law has saved you instead. You will have to work hard to pay for the mercy the law has shown you. You must pay off those sins that your ancestors and family members committed until the day you die.” That was all I knew about why I was in there. We prisoners would eat only what they fed us, wear only what they provided us, and do only what they told us to do. There was nothing we could do on our own. . . .

During my 24 years of life in prison camp, all I saw were guards in guards’ uniforms with guns and prisoners in prisoners’ uniforms. There, we were not supposed to see what we wanted to see, and we were not supposed to say what we wanted to say. Inside of the camp, there is no way that you can know anything of the outside world. Hope doesn’t exist [End Page 185] in prison camps. There, prisoners watch each other. They even report their own parents’ transgressions to the camp guards. If you don’t, you will be punished even more severely for staying silent.

When I was fourteen years old, my mother and brother [were planning] to escape the prison camp and I reported it. Then, I had to watch their public execution. I was seated in the front row. I watched them being killed but could feel nothing. In the prison camp, I never knew how parents care for their children and how children care for their parents. I never learned it. In prison camps, there is nothing that parents can do for their children. In prison camps, there is nothing that children can do for their parents.

This is because parents are prisoners, and I was a prisoner. . . . Many people ask me how such a thing can happen. My only answer to this question is: Yes, this can happen in prison camps. Prisoners in prison camps are considered nothing more than animals. There was nothing I could do for my mother and brother when they were executed right in front of my eyes. All that I could do was watch them die. The eyes of the camp guards at that moment were not human. I never saw any human emotions from those camp guards.

I understand how hard it is for you to believe and imagine all that you have heard from me today. However, I have to tell you this. Even at this moment, there are many people who are suffering and dying in prison camps in North Korea. The only thing I can do for them is to tell you all how painful and miserable life for those in prison camps really is. Those terrible stories that you heard from me today describe just a few of many unimaginably horrible things that happen in prison camps in North Korea. . . . The only thing that I can do is to share with you my stories and the testimonies of the others suffering in the prison camps. This is all I can do. The key solution to this problem is you.

The whole world was very sad to see the corpses of the six-million Jews who died in Nazi prison camps about seventy years ago. And we thought this horrible tragedy was a thing of the past. Do you really believe that the Nazis’ horrendous longings are a thing of the past? Do you really think that those two-million people that were killed in Cambodia forty years ago are a thing of the past? Do you think that the terrible things that were happening in Sudan in Africa, Kosovo in Eastern Europe, and Syria in the Middle East are all things of the past?

Unfortunately, they are not. They are current reality. If we don’t act now, we will have to cry and feel pain again, just as we did seventy years ago. This can happen to us tomorrow. Or it can happen to us in a year. We don’t have much time. There is one thing that North Koreans do well. They die well. They die from public execution. They die from starvation. They die while crossing the border between China and North Korea. They die from human trafficking. All they can do is die. Is there really no savior? You here in front of me—please, be our saviors. [End Page 186]